What spending time with family taught me about being a more effective difference maker

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Today I want to share with you an experience I’ve recently had that taught me the importance of making sure our cup is always filled to the brim. 

Rewind to about a month ago when I decided I was going to travel and spend some time in Austria (where I originally come from) with my adorable nieces and family. I love seeing them all but I usually go there with mixed feelings. Mixed because on one hand, I love to be fully immersed in their lives and what’s going on when I’m there. On the other hand, I quickly get tired physically (and I’m only 35 at this point in time!) and mentally because I find myself fully immersed in the constant-on-demand situations that present themselves there. 

Imagine three young girls that want to get all they can from auntie when she comes for a visit from “faraway Italy”. Then much needed and desired catch-up-over-a-cup-of-coffee talk times with my sister. Add to that spending time with my parents who obviously also appreciate my presence; and not to mention a good old school-time friend meet-up, visiting my aging grandparents and on and on the list goes. ‘This is all ok for a two or three-week visit!’, you might think. It’s normal and ok to get tired and worn out quickly with so much going on (especially when like me you’re not used to being around little kids, ha!). 

But to me, it is so frustrating! Why? Because in everything I do, and especially when it comes to relationships, I like to have nothing less than high-quality. I do not just go to see my family in Austria, I go there with a mission. I am just made like that: whatever I do, I like to see it as my mission. And, I like to follow a greater vision. One of my missions and vision of being there is to reconnect with my nieces that I only get to spend time with a few times a year, and to cultivate and nurture our auntie-niece relationship. My heart’s desire is to fill them up to the brim with my love so they can draw from it when I’m not there. And then obviously, I just really enjoy spending time with them because I adore them and think they’re the cutest nieces anyone could ever have. 

As mentioned before, I also like to catch up with my sister. She’s only 20 months older than me and there’s nothing like a good heartfelt sister talk face-to-face about things that have been going on in our lives. Then there are my parents that are aging (they’re not too old yet, but I’m aware time is passing) and I want to spend the time I still have with them well. And there are other things on my “mission statement” for Austria as well.

The reality while being there is, though, that too often I hardly manage to keep my eyes open because of being overly tired, I get irritated with my loved ones because I never get to have a little recharging me-time and I just don’t have the energy to play with my nieces as much as they and I would like to, to name just a few. The time when I want to be 100% present the most seems to be the time when after just a few days I am in a state of constantly wishing I’d was somewhere else just by myself!

Past trips have found me run down and tired. Why the physical exhaustion? I go to bed late because of conversations that can only be held when the kids are asleep, yet the next morning I get woken up early by my nieces. During the day I don’t grant myself rest until I barely manage to keep my eyes open. I don’t go for walks and I don’t do regular exercise while there. And mentally? Being with people all the time, even though they’re loved ones, just wears me out. Know that feeling?

Fast forward to this visit….

So this time I wanted to do things differently. I shared my concerns with my amazing coach, and she asked me the following question: What would make YOU happy when going there, as opposed to what would make everybody else happy? This question triggered some deeper reflection in my mind. I realized that I was going to be happy when, yes, I could spend quality time with my loved ones there, but at the same time not get as run down and pour from an empty cup while there (not to mention the usual need for a long catch-my-breath time when getting back home afterwards). 

I was going to be truly happy and satisfied with my trip when I could give from a full cup. So I made a list of all the things that would make me personally happy, which ended up being a list of self-care activities so I could more fully enjoy my time with people there. It was about getting enough physical rest, having a little time for me, being able to spend some time in prayer and devotion daily, and funny enough, an important aspect was also to not junk out too much on food as that literally “weighs me down”!

With this list in mind I felt I was ready to go! And you know what? My time there was awesome. I tried as best as I could to follow through on what I’d written on the list. The awareness of what I needed to be able to pour from a full cup as well as what I really wanted from my time there was crucial and helped me have clear direction and vision while there. I enjoyed very special times with all the members of my family for which I’m very grateful and which was exactly what I wanted.

Now, you might be wondering what this has to do with being an effective difference maker? 

It’s the fact that you can’t pour out on others when you’re empty yourself, and how different our experience of life can be when we’re filled to overflowing. Especially because we, as difference makers, be it in big or small ways, are always pouring out! This is why it’s so important that we never run on empty, because we want the work we do to be quality work that lasts. 

I realized during my trip to Austria – and this is something I’m going to bring with me in my life and work as a difference maker – that less is more. Sometimes it took a “no” to my nieces’ request of staying for a sleep over in their house to be able to get more rest and be at my best with them the next day. It took stepping back from the very people I wanted to be with, to be able to really focus on the quality of time with them instead of the quantity. Was it hard for me? Yes. But it was successful! 

Once again, the old quote has proven to be true: “You cannot pour from an empty cup!”

Here’s an invitation to you to reflect on the following questions these coming weeks:

  • Where are you spreading yourself too thin in your work as a difference maker? 
  • What do you need to say “no” to short term in order to be able to gain a greater and better “yes” in the long run? 
  • Where do you need to step back from work, even though it might seem important and crucial, for a while and just let go?
  • What would it be like for you to wake up in the morning inspired, refreshed, re-envisioned and ready to pour from a full and overflowing cup?
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